They call him Lazarus

They call him Lazarus

In October of 2016, Gustavo Raya witnessed a car theft. The thief drove the car down the street going the wrong direction at 100mph and slammed into Gustavo’s car, causing him to hit his head on the window shield. Stuck in the collision, his seat had to later be cut with a saw to get him free.

“It’s hard to recall all of the details, but I remember my legs being bent and twisted the wrong way. It felt as if my entire body was broken,” he says.

Gustavo was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., where trauma and cardiovascular teams worked tirelessly and urgently to save his life.

Dr. Christopher Wigfield, a thoracic surgeon at Advocate Christ, says Gustavo had multiple serious fractures and internal organ injuries. With such life-threatening injuries, it’s remarkable he even made it to the hospital.

In November of 2016, Gustavo required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), also known as shock lung syndrome.

“Shock lung syndrome is a potentially lethal failure of the lung,” explains Dr. Charles Alex, a transplant pulmonologist at Advocate Christ. “We braced his wife, Rosalva, that he may never fully recover or be himself again.”

Nevertheless, Rosalva refused such a fate.

“I believed in my heart and gut that he was going to make it and be okay. I knew it would be hard, and that we would suffer a great deal, but I had faith,” she says.

Despite all efforts, Gustavo’s oxygen levels remained critical and left him requiring the support of ECMO for 189 days. Only then, after roughly six months, did Gustavo surprise nearly everyone but his wife by making a near full recovery.

Initially, it was expected that he would be incoherent or unaware of what was going on, but almost immediately, he began calling Rosalva and their son by their “special names.”

“Right away, he’d call out to me and say ‘Rossy,’ or to my son, ‘my big boy.’ He wasn’t confused, he knew who we were and that we were there,” Rosalva recalls.

Yet, despite recovering from all the internal fractures and organ failures and surviving 189 days with ECMO, this isn’t the most remarkable part of his story – believe it or not.

Physicians informed Rosalva and Gustavo that he would need a lung transplant.

“At this point, the only thing that barred Gustavo from a full recovery was his now permanently damaged lung,” says Dr. Alex. “To be considered for the transplant and put on the list, he would have to achieve several milestones such as demonstrating that he could eat, drink and walk by himself.”

These tasks seemed far from reach in Gustavo’s current state. At the time, Gustavo was unable to even move a finger. He would need to re-learn everyday skills, and physicians thought he might not make it to the transplant. Nonetheless, Rosalva once again refused to believe such a fate.

“He had to make it. I was going to make him do it,” she says. “You would never think about having to be so strong in your life, but he has always been my rock. I thought about what life would be like if he wasn’t there. I needed him to do it not just for me, but for our kids.”

Rosalva remembers that she would move Gustavo’s muscles by pulling his eyebrows up and down and help him move his muscles to remember how to smile. She would do any task, no matter how small or big so long as she thought they could help.

Once again, her determination helped Gustavo excel. In April, six months after arriving at the hospital, physicians allowed him to take the tests needed to confirm he could be put on the transplant list. On April 26, 2017, Gustavo and Rosalva’s 23rd Anniversary, Gustavo was officially put on the list.

Then, after eight months of aggressive physical, occupational and speech therapies, Gustavo received a lung transplant in May of 2017.

Today, Gustavo is alive and on his way to making a full recovery as a result of his wife’s endless devotion, the tireless and compassionate care of the Adult Surgical Heart Unit and nursing staff, and the expertise of his physicians at Advocate Christ. As you can imagine, his 17-year-old son, Gustavo Jr., and 13-year-old daughter, Sydney, are happy to have him home and getting stronger every day.

Dr. Wigfield says Gustavo’s recovery is extraordinary. Specifically, Gustavo is the first documented patient to make a full recovery from a lung transplant after surviving with the help of ECMO for so long.

Advocate Christ’s department of rehabilitation awarded Gustavo with the Adult Inpatient Rehabilitation Award, and Dr. Wigfield fondly calls Gustavo “Lazarus,” who in the bible rises from the dead after four days.

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One Comment

  1. Mr. Raya’s story is truly amazing. I venture to say that his wife and others did a lot of praying. On September 19, 2017, I had a heart attack. I don’t recall it happening. I worked at Methoist Hospitals in Gary and collapsed coming out of the elevator outside post partum. Security videos pinpointed that I was out for a minute and a half before I was found with no pulse. The quick action of the person who found me was a Godsend. I was in a coma for nine days with little hope for surviving. My wife had called our priest to administer what would have been last rites. My kidneys had to be dialyzed twice, right lung collapsed and red blood count went down to 5, requiring a transfusion. I coded multiple times and to this day, nobody will tell me how many times. Doctors and hospital staff did all they could for me. Many prayers were sent heavenward by family, church and fellow hospital staff and I believe that God in his mercy heard those prayers and did the rest . The manager of ICU told me that I am a miracle and with the severity of cases that ICUs deal with, it is no doubt accurate. Although my story is not as dramatic as Mr. Raya’s, I guess I am a sort of Lazarus. The spiritual part of Mr. Raya’s recovery is rightly recognized by Dr. Wigfield. People in healthcare are truly called to a ministry of healing and the combination of medical science and the spiritual care team is awesome, unbeatable.

    I retired January 1 and since I live in Chicago, I had to sign up for Medicare providers in Illinois. I opted for Dr. Gregory Smith as a primary doctor who is affiliated with AMG. I’ve had two visits with him; also. Dr. Imran Ali and Dr. Neil Ybanez. Having to change my doctors isn’t easy, but I believe I have a great team of doctors lined up for my medical needs. I also had the opportunity to be a patient at Christ in 2005 for physical therapy after several surgeries that left me needing to learn to walk again.

    I am doing remarkably well and reached a milestone today doing 2.0 miles in 30 minutes on the treadmill at planet fitness. God is good!!!

About the Author

Jamie Bonnema
Jamie Bonnema

Jamie Bonnema, health enews contributor, is a specialist of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She earned her BA in communications from DePaul University in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, going to concerts, and cheering on the Chicago Cubs.